Attention Deficit Disorder and a Hostile Work Environment: How to Handle Difficult Work Problems

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Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder

Imagine being late to work almost every day. Once you arrive, you find yourself constantly trying to locate papers on your cluttered desk, missing project deadlines, and forgetting appointments. When concentrating on your e-mails, you become so engrossed in the messages that you forget to start the day’s other tasks. If you have attention deficit disorder (ADD), you do not have to imagine these scenarios because they are parts of daily life.

Employees with ADD have difficulties remaining focused and concentrating on routine tasks. Individuals often have poor listening skills, have trouble maintaining and remembering conversations, and become distracted by miscellaneous sights and sounds. Completing simple tasks, losing and misplacing items, and starting and finishing projects are also struggles faced by those with ADD. Employees with ADD who disclose their disability have rights to job accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Job accommodations can include handheld organizers, additional training time for new tasks, and verbal and visual cues. Perhaps one of the best accommodations is a supportive work environment. So, what do you if you have attention deficit disorder and a hostile work environment is the norm?

Hostility on the Job

A work environment can be described as hostile when you feel victimized by harassing or bullying, so much so that you cannot work. Although anyone can experience harassment, employees with ADD may experience disability-related harassment. This can include offensive comments about your disorder, offensive jokes about people with disabilities, and offensive gestures and behavior toward you based on your disability. While the ADA does not specifically prohibit harassment, employers must prevent discrimination under the terms and conditions of employment. This means, by law, employers must prevent hostility in the workplace.

While employers are responsible for preventing and ending hostility and harassment in the workplace, the harassment may come from many different sources. When the people who “are” the company harass, such as owners, CEOs, and directors, the company is automatically legally responsible for the harassment. Likewise, since a supervisor has direct authority over an employee, the company is liable for harassment. If a coworker harasses you, the employer is responsible unless it can show it took immediate and appropriate corrective steps. Finally, an employer holds responsibility if customers, patrons, or independent contractors harass you. This third-party discrimination is difficult to prove, since employers often do not know everything happening in the workplace, particularly when something involves non-employees.

As an employee, you can and must take active steps to deal with hostility. These first steps include:

  • Reading any employee materials on reporting harassment, and if there are any, checking with the employer
  • Logging all specific instances of harassment
  • Keeping copies of information referring to the inability to perform your work
  • Avoiding being alone with the harasser and attempt to get witnesses to the harassment
  • Writing a memo to the harasser if you are afraid of confrontation
  • Writing a letter of complaint to your supervisor
  • Talking to coworkers about their possible experiences with hostility
  • Making a group complaint with coworkers

If none of these steps works to alleviate the hostility, you need to take your complaints further. In fact, as an employee, you have the responsibility to use all available means provided at the workplace to prevent or limit harm. You must use grievance procedures or other opportunities to report the harassment. If you do not take these steps, employers could possibly avoid legal liability or pay you less money if a judgment is made against them. Situations do exist, however, when failure to take the appropriate steps may be considered reasonable. These include employers not having a complaint system available to you, possible retaliation, obstacles to complaints existed, or the complaint process proved ineffective.

A hostile work environment becomes a harassment claim under the ADA when the workplace is so abusive that you cannot work. In other words, a workplace full of discriminatory intimidation, insult, and ridicule can be described as hostile. Courts considering a case examine harassment contributing to hostility and judge it severe enough to warrant a successful claim if:

  • the discrimination occurred just once or several times
  • the severity of the discrimination
  • whether the discrimination is physically harmful or humiliating
  • whether the discrimination unreasonably interferes with your job performance

Before filing a hostile work environment claim, every effort should be made with your employer to resolve the harassment. All complaints directed to the employer should be done in writing, and they should also be sent to the owner or director of the company. If you fear retaliation, you should consult an attorney.


Arizona Center for Disability Law.

Smith, Melinda and Block, Jocelyn. “Adult ADD / ADHD: Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment.”